RealTime IT News

AltaVista to Offer Unmetered Internet Access in U.K.

Internet portal AltaVista announced this weekend that it will offer customers in the U.K. unmetered Internet access with no telephone charges, for a single upfront fee.

Customers will pay just a one-time administration charge of around £30 ($48), gaining access to the Internet via an 0800 number.

The only catch, following scrutiny by much of the U.K's media on Monday morning, appears to be that only a maximum of half a million users will be accepted into the scheme during the first six months of operation. This, says AltaVista, is to prevent the system collapsing through over-demand.

Andy Mitchell, managing director of AltaVista in the U.K., said that high phone charges imposed by BT and other telecoms operators are ensuring that the U.K. still lags behind the U.S. in exploiting the Internet.

"By announcing free monthly access and free calls, AltaVista is hoping to increase the number of people online and the number of Internet-related jobs, which in turn will boost the British economy and place us in a competitive position with the United States," said Mitchell.

So-called "free Internet access" has been touted by dozens of ISPs since the spectacular launch of Freeserve in 1999. Most of them, including Freeserve, make no provision for the telephone connection which costs the average consumer around £126 ($200) per year in local call charges.

Companies that have offered unmetered calls as part of the deal have incurred technical problems when they have been unable to cope with demand. Recently, cable company Telewest was forced to suspend registrations to its own unmetered Internet access service.

AltaVista hopes to avoid any problems by carrying out extensive testing to ensure the system is stable. It says it will carefully manage the roll-out of its services, making sure that customer satisfaction remains high.

Experts anticipate that the AltaVista service will save British Internet users nearly £700 million ($1.12 billion) a year.